Sunday, December 16, 2007

The endless labyrinth of conspiracies and lies

I knew of the book long before my eyes saw it. I knew of the author and the book's subject as well. In fact, I could have gotten the book long before that day in Dec 2006 but for whatever reason, I decided not to pursue it earlier. But last year, something compelled me to get the book. It had nothing to do with the book's cover which was plain black and only contained the author's name and the title (in caps):

Bernard-Henry Lévy
Who Killed Daniel Pearl?

There is nothing to incite a person to buy the book. Sure there are were promotion quotes by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times Book Review on the cover. But I never go by these blurbs or quotes when buying a book. In the end, I bought the book. Maybe it was the vacation in New Delhi? I don't know. The book was tucked away trapped within other countless books on a bookshelf. Nothing about the book screamed to be picked up. But I saw Lévy's name on the cover. Maybe that was it. Whatever the reason, looking back now, the choice of finding the book in a bookstore in New Delhi was appropriate. Because in the complex labyrinth of the story behind Daniel Pearl's murder, there is an investigative link that leads Lévy to New Delhi as well. But it is only a tiny part of a giant complex puzzle that Lévy attempts to solve. Maybe he has come the closest. Or maybe he is further from the truth? No one will ever know. But one thing is clear -- this is one of the best and most challenging books I have read in a while.

Part of the challenge is how Lévy skillfully manages to combine his thoughts, feelings, abstract words and actual facts in one flowing paragraph after another. This is how he writes normally and this is why I enjoy his words. In this book, that style allows the reader to observe things from Lévy's perspective. And this becomes challenging because Lévy is visiting the darkest places in a complex web -- what he sees is not pleasing, what he learns is troubling. And his style allows the reader to get a front seat to all the events. At times, reading the book became too much for me. I simply could not carry on. But then I returned back, and every time I read the book, I didn't want to put it down. But I had leave it because I was getting sucked into a world I didn't want to get into.

Lévy is searching for the truth about Pearl's murder. In order to get to the truth, he first places himself in Pearl's mind and visits the same places that Daniel did. Then Lévy places himself in the mind of the killer. He studies both people's lives and tries to piece together what led to such a horrific incident. Then Lévy visits terrorist recruiting locations, interviews plenty of important people and gets lost in the names and facts. He follows a trail and writes pages about it, only to realize later that was wrong. He does not hide the failed attempts from the readers. Every now and again Lévy emerges with a new idea and decides to pursue it. In the end, despite all the wrong turns and misinformation, he puts together a reasonable hypothesis. It may be the truth or it maybe another trap door leading to more lies.

The movie:

I didn't want to see Michael Winterbottom's movie A Mighty Heart until I had finished reading Lévy's book. But the movie and book are completely separate. Although, there are some overlapping similarities (hotel names, characters), both are structured differently. Who Killed Daniel Pearl? pieces together events which happened in the past and picks up the trail after all the incidents took place. Whereas A Mighty Heart, which is based on Mariane Pearl's book, shows events in the days of Danny's kidnaping leading up to his killing.

In the movie, the complexity of the kidnaping is shown by a white-board chart that Asra (Archie Panjabi), the journalist whose house the Pearl's stayed in, maintains to track all the characters. Even though the white-board shows how the web of conspirators grows into a messy spiral, the film maintains a linearity that allows the tension and helplessness of the incident to sink in. There are some amazing moments when Winterbottom reverts to using Digital cameras to show the scenes when the police go through a maze of apartments and narrow alley-ways in order to arrest some of the suspects. In those moments, the film appears to be a documentary and not a scripted effort.

Acting wise, both Angelina Jolie and Irfan Khan have done a great job of portraying the complex emotions that is required of their characters. Irfan Khan brings the calm measured performance required of his 'Captain' character, a person that Mariane trusted from day one. Overall, for me Lévy's book & Winterbottom's film compliment each other in helping to give a better picture as to what happened. Still, the final truth does seem elusive. What is apparent is that there exists a lawless section in the world, a complex web where no government can reach. This is where evil and conspiracies are allowed to fester. Hate is manufactured here. Links to recent events can be traced to this part of the world. This is what Daniel Pearl was after and maybe he had found an answer. Or maybe he was asking the questions that he was not supposed to be asking?

The past gives an answer, but often the world ignores it. When an Air India flight was hijacked on the eve of the year 2000, the World saw the event, reported it, but did nothing. India was in a real bind. The hijackers wanted 4 imprisoned terrorists released and in the end, the Indian government had no choice but to give into those wishes. America and the West ignored that incident. And one of the 4 terrorists released that day went onto kill Daniel Pearl and even mastermind the collapse of those two towers. Maybe.

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